FAMILY HOLIDAY IN PIEMONTE

Posted on by Felicia da Costa

Summertime! Holiday time! Where to go… My husband literally dreams of Piemonte, and like Curacao is my ‘drug’, he needs to go there once a year. So we (or he) booked a trip and carefully selected all the hotels/b&b/villas we would be staying at.


We always quarrel over the destination in terms of temperature; he thinks 25C is more than enough while I just start defrosting at that point. But, as he promised me, temperatures would rise during our trip so I did not need to worry… Boy, was I in for a treat! But I packed all sorts of outfits (yes, we bought some extra kilos to be sure) and off we went!

Getting there:

Our starting point in the Piemonte was a 45-mins drive from Turin, so we booked tickets with Transavia from Amsterdam-Turin and these were still fairly cheap. As I keep mentioning, their timetable is good when it comes to travelling with small children, as this flight left at noon, so we could easily finish packing and have breakfast before going to the airport. The flight time is under two hours so that is another perk of going to the Piemonte, besides all the other great stuff. We boarded (Transavia let you take your stroller all the way to the plane and has a ‘children first’ boarding system so that was a big help- and the crew was kind, as usual), the kids took a nap and before we knew it we arrived at Turin. As the airport is really small and accessible, the rental car area is just a stroll away and the car we had rented at Maggiore was already waiting for us. Make sure to rent a big car as the Italians tend to give you a small one, which is great if you conquer those hills by yourself but definitely NOT when travelling with small children and all the things that come with that. Anyways, we stuffed the car and drove to our first destination, windows down…

 

 Where to stay:

Well, I must admit my husband took care of this particular part, as he is a huge fan of Piemonte-and its wines and wineries. So I had let him do all the research and bookings, and completely trusted him with that. We did have a different opinion about the amount of travelling we would be doing during those two weeks, because I prefer to have one or two home bases with little kids, and he wanted to see as much of the region as possible. So we ended up going to four (!) different locations…

We tried very hard to arrange separate bedrooms in every hotel/B&B because George and Alba still not sleep at the same hours and we did not want George to wake Alba every time he would cry, but that proved to be very hard. Connecting rooms are very sparse in Europe, and we definitely did not want rooms that were not connected or directly next to each other.
So in the end we booked two different B&B’s with two bedrooms, a villa with three bedrooms and the final hotel offered a two bedroom-cottage so that all sounded hopeful. I also stressed I wanted a place that offered dinner or at least lunch, because I did not look forward to eating out twice a day with two little kids, but that proved to be hard as well. All places offered restaurants in the direct area, but you still had to go by car and we are just not used to that in Holland… Oh and I also wanted a yard and/or pool in case the weather would be nice (yep, that was another battle lost.. I crave hot days and long lunches, and my husband does not really care for sun all day long… but he did promise me nice weather- he lost that one, I can tell you that), so we had quite a few demands. I must say, he did a good job hunting down nice locations! The weather just did not cooperate during the first week…

Immediately after we arrived, we drove to Poderi Luigi Einaudi, a beautiful wine estate located in Dogliani. It offers wonderful views over the wineries and the room we would be staying in offered everything we needed: a separate bedroom for us, a huge living with a big bed for Alba and enough space for George’s cot, an upstairs with a tiny kitchenette and fridge, and floor to ceiling windows all around. The estate only offers breakfast, but they do serve an ‘aperitivo’ at the end of the day, which meant they would open a few of their own bottles of wine and leave a huge platter with cheese and ‘salumi’ for all the guests to enjoy either on the grounds or in your room. We loved that! We would get dressed for dinner in the village, and go down to have a drink first before leaving. The weather wasn’t that great so we did not swim in the beautiful pool, but luckily the baby monitor made it possible for us to sit outside and enjoy the wonderful garden(s) during naptime, and we did a tour of their cellars as well. Breakfast is nothing special but everything is fresh and the staff is friendly. Everybody happy!  Unfortunately we had to leave before we completely settled in… Off to our next destination!

After a short ride and a lovely lunch (more on that later!) we arrived at our second venue, located in San Martino Alfieri: Marchesi Alfieri. The Alfieri family has owned this ‘borgo’ for a long, long time, and transformed a small part into a B&B, while still producing wine. Guests can make use of the incredibly beautiful garden (I would rather call it a park- it totally reminded me of Hyde Park in London which proved to make sense as it was designed by an English landscaper) and there is a small playground as well. You really feel like you are catapulted back a few centuries and it is very obvious the family is very proud of their heritage. And rightfully so! We had booked a family room but ended up staying in a sort of apartment that consisted of two separate bedrooms, a small livingroom (which we used as George’s room) and a long hallway with a tiny kitchen. There was a huge terrace just outside the front door and the park was a two minute walk away. Again, the weather was quite awful, so both kids were developing a nasty cold rapidly… Not my idea of a summer holiday but oh well, we had to make the best of it so decided on taking a tour at the estate after which the rain stopped so we could go to the playground for a while. Because we were so tired and a bit bummed about the rain, we decided to have take away pizza for dinner and that was pretty nice! Breakfast was not that good but my dear hubby went to this huge supermarket during nap time and bought all sorts of wonderful fresh food and snacks so we had our own ‘aperitivo’ in the garden. Boy, am I lucky with this positive guy ; ).
After spending two nights here we packed all our stuff (again…) and drove off to our third residence, a (supposedly) beautiful villa in Loazzolo, Asti. So far so good, but we needed sunshine!

After a really nice lunch in Cannelli, we drove up the mountain (prepare for some killer turns and steep climbs…) and reached the villa: WOW. Incredible views (we looked it up and it appears that the human eye can ‘only’ see as far as 30km, but we would swear we could see as far as a 100km), great outdoor space (lots of different terraces, a gorgeous pool, lavender plants all over the place and rosemary everywhere) and perfectly equipped (think Tupperware boxes to store food, fantastic kitchenware, multiple Italian coffee pots, enough wood for the fireplace, toys for kids, etc etc). Now this was beginning to look more like it! Finally we could unpack and settle for a week! We had the downstairs room while George and Alba both had a room of their own upstairs, and the owners created another cozy bedroom in the former poolhouse so my parents, who joined us for a few days, had total privacy and so did we. And, by some sort of a miracle, the sun began to shine after the second day so we could finally, finally lounge by the pool, have lunch outside and make use of the cool outdoor pizza oven. Holiday mode on!
After endless days of playing jeux des boules, going down to the village of Cannelli for fresh fruits and vegetables and, most importantly, ice cream, Alba mastering her little scooter and George practicing his moves (if any..) on the terrace, it was time to pack again and move to our final destination…

Afternoon checkins are always a nuisance, especially with little kids. Fortunately, our last stop, Villa Tiboldi, boasts a great restaurant that offers both lunch and dinner, so we decided to have lunch there and move into our little apartment right after that, instead of going into town to have lunch. The weather was still amazing so we could have lunch outside and that was divine. Small tables with white linnen table cloths, wonderful wines and a mean pasta… As we had been there several times before we immediately felt at home and, strangely enough, so did the kids. After lunch we were brought to our apartment, which was located in a small cottage in the middle of the vineyards, surrounded by fig trees. The last three days mainly consisted of long lazy lunches, some pool dipping, playing on the grounds and wonderful dinners outside, under the starry sky. This was exactly what we had hoped for!

What to pack:

As for your toddler:
See ‘Getting there’ for the necessities during your flight.
The following (non exhaustive!) list of things proved very handy to us:

– Favorite toy and/or stuffed animal (if possible, take a second pair as these items easily get lost)
– At least two Sippy cups/bottles,and a few bottles if you have a little baby
– Your own formula if still needed. We tend to take enough for two or three days so that we have time to find a supermarket and check out the available brands there. Most of the time it is perfectly accepted by your kiddo but make sure to look up the different name so you won’t end up looking for a familiar name and not being able to find it. Same goes for porridge!
– At least three pacifiers if needed; attach them to the stroller/maxicosi/car seat and your own handbag; make sure to ‘mark’ which one belongs to the baby as you don’t want your toddler to play with it and subsequently put it in the baby’s mouth
– Enough diapers to get you through a few days- and nights! And follow the same directions as above-mentioned formula
– Optional: some bedsheets or large swaddles. I always use them to make the kids feel like they are at home while they sleep in the baby cots provided by the hotel. And they also come in very handy during the plane ride when it’s cold and at the beach to either sit on or use as a towel
– Sunscreen! We rub them in every morning; do not forget to use it every few hours. And some baby body lotion or bath oil to keep their skin hydrated after a long day outdoors
– Medicines! You do not want to go looking for a drugstore should your toddler or baby get sick, catch a cold because of the air conditioning or get sun burnt. We brought aspirin, nose drops, suppositories, cough syrup and of course their daily vitamin D drops. And you might consider taking tablets against airsickness as well; Alba gets sick every time she sets foot in either airplane or car. We used Primatour (read the instructions!!)
– A (lightweight!) stroller for your toddler. So much easier to pack, travel with and store when not used. We have a Koelstra and it is perfect. You can take it with you until after the gate (do check that explicitly with your airline!! Some are very vague when it comes to taking them that far and you do not want to be surprised while checking in) and they bring it up again immediately after leaving the airport at your destination. You can take long strolls as they are smaller and more flexible and maneuverable for walks to the beach and they fit in every car you will rent. It is also useable during lunch and dinner, and for midday naps while you are on the move. This time, we decided to leave the big pram at home, but we did take the bag ( we have the Stokke PramPack ) so we could stuff it with the maxi cosi, car seat and some other stuff
– Swim gear and some little toys. You can also buy them there, but I hate spending the first few days looking for stuff like that
– Optional: An inflatable little bathtub. Alba enjoys taking a shower now but we used our Mommy’s Helper inflatable Froggie baby bath for baby George
– A few warmer vests or sweaters, as it is quite windy, and some long-sleeved shirts. I also brought some cotton turtlenecks for both kids, and these proved very handy during the colder days we experienced. We have this awesome hooded cashmere blanket by La Petite V  that comes in very handy during planerides and trips.
– Some scarfs and a light jacket (and possibly a cap for your baby). As it was quite chilly Alba and George did catch a cold, unfortunately, and so I could keep their little throats warm by using a small scarf
– Baby care products. As I use Naif Baby Care at home, I brought their Travel kit as it offers everything you need. I like using the amenities offered by the hotel, but these are definitely not gentle enough for your kid(s). Oh and look for local products! I love Mustela
– Baby monitor
– Enough trousers to be able to change at least once a day; especially when the weather changes a lot. Rain, playing on wet grass and slides all call for a clean pair of pants
– Multiple shoes for the very same reason!
– A mini blender.. As George still refuses to chew on anything that resembles food, we depend on this device. Very easy to pack and brings great joys!
Best on-site purchase: a small travelling cot. As George does not crawl yet but does move all day long and likes to practise his squats, we wanted to have something similar to our playpen at home. We simply moved it around wherever we were and he enjoyed it very much, while being safe at the same time! Great investment, let me tell you…

What to do:

Well, obviously we were hoping for two weeks of sunshine and outdoor play. However, that did not happen during the first week, so we had to think of other ways to keep both the kids and ourselves happy! The old school endless lunches are quite impossible with a toddler and a baby, but we went for it everyday anyways and it worked out well! I just brought some crayons for Alba and little toys for George and they managed to sit with us at the table (yes, we are quite adamant that Alba does not leave the table right after her meal) for at least 1,5 hrs so that went pretty well. Make sure to order their food first, so they won’t be hungry nor cranky. Italians love children so a bit of noise was never a problem and everywhere we went they either offered highchairs or we used our great Sack ‘n Seat. As I said before, my husband loves this region so he investigated all the best restaurants and venues, but if in doubt, make sure to have the latest Slow Food guide with you. You can’t go wrong there! But to give you a heads’up and some inspiration I will tell you where we went for lunch:

Dogliani:
Osteria Battaglino– don’t be fooled by the interior.. food is great, service excellent. Wonderful place!

La Morra:
Osteria Veglio– simply wonderful. great views, both inside and out on the terrace. Great food, good service, superb wine list. We have been there many times and return all the time.

Canelli:
Ristorante Enoteca di Canelli– although this restaurant is ‘hidden’ in a cellar so it does not sound tempting when the sun is out, it is worth a visit (or for dinner!). Good food, super friendly staff (it is a family owned restaurant and you can tell) and the atmosphere is pretty cool because you are surrounded by wine.

Canale:
Ristorante Villa Tiboldi– this is the restaurant that belongs to the hotel and it’s great… We had lunch outside all the time and the views are just amazing. The menu offers really nice dishes and the wine list is so nice… Do try their own, world famous Malvira wine as it is wonderful. Staff is businesslike but nice and they help you pick a dish for the kids.

I must admit that we were a bit taken aback by the bad weather. Would it have been just us, we would have laughed about it and visited many wineries, go out for lunch and visit all the surrounding towns and villages. However, dragging two unhappy kids through medieval places did not sound very appealing to us so we had to be creative. As soon as it stopped raining we went outside to play and run and smell all the beautiful roses and lavender. Whenever we could cook we would go grocery shopping and cook wonderful meals with Alba’s help  (just sending her to the garden with this little basket to go get some herbs was so much fun and made her feel all grownup). We did some wine tastings but only during their naps, and short strolls through the little villages were doable. The stroller proved to be very handy as George fell asleep in it after lunch (I cannot begin to express my gratitude there… not so long ago this would have been impossible!) and we did not have to carry him while shopping either. But as soon as the sun was out, everything changed. Suddenly we could play outside, make pizzas in the woodoven and go for ice cream. We visited (food) markets in Canelli and Dogliani and that was fun too; Alba got to taste so many different cheeses and bread and salumi and she had a great time. We just love food!
We have been in the city of Alba (hence her name!) so many times before that we did not feel the urge to go there again, especially because we preferred enjoying the gardens and pool once the sun was there to stay, but I would totally recommend going there as it is beautiful. We planned on going to Canale but never got that far…
Quite a part of the day was also spent discussing where to have dinner because most of our venues did not offer that (which, again, in retrospect I did not like- note to self), so here some tips:

Dogliani:
Osteria Battaglino– Yes, we had dinner here too! See above.

San Martino Alfieri:
Pizzeria La Rosa Blu– Again, the styling is not that great, but judging by the immense crowds of locals we concluded it must be a good place and we were proved right. Wonderful fresh woodoven pizzas, huge ones I must add, and good salads on the side. Must go!
Tratoria Pautassi– Just a short, nice drive from Marchesi Alfieri. You are welcomed by the owner, which is nice, and the decor is alright, although not very cozy. Alba had a mean ragu (freshly made pasta with meatsauce) but our dishes were ordinary. Not really worth the fuss we had read about it but not bad either.

Cassinasco:
La Casa nel Bosco– wonderful family owned restaurant with own vegetable garden and orchards. All food is homemade and excellent… Do try their own wine as it is really good as well! Highly recommended by Slow Food as well and we loved it. The owner is very friendly and they have a big garden so the kids can play after dinner while you slowly finish your meal.

Canale:
Villa Tiboldi: Great for lunch and dinner. Food is fresh and good, menu not too long (although I would think they would offer something different more often as they have many hotel guests) and service quick although sometimes a bit impersonal. Wonderful wine list and nicely decorated. If the weather is good enough you will have dinner outside which is amazing. White parasols, silverware and cristal glasses on the table, the faint smell of jasmine and rosemary…

When in Canelli, definitely get an ice cream at Gelato Caffe– so many different tastes and all very good. Not too creamy nor sugary. Great! We went there every day for a week and never got tired.

We were planning to go to this supposedly fantastic outlet, Serravalle Designer Outlet McArthurGlen, but by then the weather was finally nice so we did not want to spend a day indoors with the kids. But it offers all the big Italian brands such as Zegna, Canali, Gucci, Corneliani and many more…

Grown up fun:

Wine, wine and wine! Should you be lucky enough to have someone to watch your kid(s) for a day, you need to visit some wineries and estates. There are so many it would be useless to make a list, but we have been to the following and were not disappointed… Do make sure to check availability in advance and, more importantly, what (kind of grapes and) wines you like and would love to see and taste. I have a specific taste so we made sure to visit both wineries that both my husband and I liked. Piemonte is a superb wine region and produces some of the world’s best wines (Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera), grappas and spumantes. You simply cannot visit this region and NOT visit several wineries!

Ca’ del Baio – Barbaresco area
Guido Porro– Serralunga
Ceretto– Alba
Fontanafredda-Serralunga d’Alba
La Spinetta– Castagnole Lanze
Bovio Gianfranco– Annunziata

Personal Rating:

Piemonte on a whole:

We simply love this region. The wine, the food, the views and the endless little villages are incredible. Unfortunately the weather proved less sunny than we had hoped for, but even on a grey day you will be amazed by its beauty. As the Italians love kids, we were able to take them everywhere and not even once feel embarrassed or ashamed. All restaurants offer high chairs and if not, they will bring you a cushion and everything is fixed. The prices are still so reasonable and the atmosphere is really low key. It is definitely less packed with tourists in comparison to Tuscany or the islands, which we like as well, and it is as if time stood still in this region. That said, this also means that cities, buildings and other sites are less well kept so a lot less glamorous. But never mind the many ugly buildings! You come here to enjoy a great quality of life- if you love food, wine, and relaxing, that is. Although it is less crowded, you should call restaurants in advance as they are all quite a drive away and you don’t want to risk driving up and down the many winding roads with kids in the car… This region is beautiful during every season- that is why we go there every autumn (ok, and also because of the GREAT white truffle fair and dishes).
We will be back!

Hotels:

Poderi Luigi Einaudi
We will be back. The estate is beautiful, the grounds very well kept and the pool is a big plus. The room we booked was big enough for all four of us and it was really nice to have a tiny kitchen and fridge. Especially when the sun is out, this is a great place to stay with kids. The wine they produce and serve is wonderful, and the staff is friendly. Breakfast is not as you would want it to be (I prefer to be able to order a fresh capuccino instead of drinking plain coffee out of a jug), but the rest definitely makes up for that. Thumbs up!

Marchesi Alfieri
Ok call me spoiled but I love a good breakfast and this is not the place to find it. So that’s a problem. We had booked two rooms but they advised us to take the apartment, for which I am thankful because it is always nice when a hotel thinks along. However, the apartment is a bit outdated… It is dark, a bit cold and does not feel very welcome. That said, I have not seen the other rooms, and it was nice to be able to separate the kids because their coughing constantly kept waking each other. The grounds- and playground are a big plus, and the buildings are simply breathtakingly beautiful. To me it was a mix of Downton Abbey, Hyde Park and music by Ennio Morricone. So I think I would go back once more to give it another try. The staff was very friendly!

The Villa
Superb. Wonderful. Extraordinary. No, honestly, it was amazing. We had been looking at their website and almost found it too good to be true. But it was all of the above and more! So perfectly renovated, beautifully decorated (think brass faucets and heating, large terra cotta tiles, breezy white curtains), several terraces to choose from and a great fireplace for colder evenings. The view is stunning, the pool perfect and it was so much fun making fresh pizzas in the woodoven. So if I really have to come up with something ‘negative’ I would mention the climb to and from the nearest village of Canelli. To have to get into the car for every single loaf of bread or bottle of milk is annoying, in a way. But then you think of the view… and it makes up for everything. So would we return? Most certainly yes. We might rent the house for two weeks and just cocoon up the hill and only go to the village to restock our food and wine. Go visit!

Villa Tiboldi
We had been here before, both during the summer and late October, and it keeps attracting us. The hotel is not too big, so it is never crowded. The rooms are beautifully decorated and have nice views, the pool is perfect and the fact that they have a restaurant is a very big plus. It simply means that you don’t have to go down to the village twice a day which is really nice. I think we would not rent the apartment in the dependance next time, because you can never go for lunch or dinner while the kids are taking a nap (you need to cross a vineyard to get to the main building or go by car, which takes about 1 minute but still) and the room is definitely less charming. It does have a small kitchen but without a stove or proper fridge, nor curtains so you cannot use this space for anything, actually. So if they could offer us a big room or maybe two connected rooms in the main building, we would go for that option. The food in the restaurant is really good, and although part of the staff is rather businesslike, you still feel welcome. Breakfast is above average, with lots of fresh fruits and good coffee.
The terrace overlooking the vineyards is amazing, and you should definitely go for a tasting in their own vineyard- they own the Malvira winery.

Child friendliness:
Kids are very welcome in this area (actually, I think this counts for the whole of Italy). Every restaurant offers high chairs and kids menus if needed. There are numerous playgrounds and as the vibe is rather low key, people do not mind kids running around during or after lunch or dinner. The food is really accesible for kids so you don’t have to worry about that either.
As both my kids hate being in the car, that proved to be a challenge as Piemonte is one big hill with endless steep roads and sharp curves. But if you prepare (take tablets with you!) and try to travel during naps, you will be fine.
Both our children felt completely at home and at ease, and that made us happy as well!

 

*Pictures to follow soon!



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